Plastic Chemicals Linked to Postpartum Depression
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Certain environmental chemicals were tied to postpartum depression in new moms, researchers said.

A prospective study of 139 pregnant women found that those with greater prenatal exposure to certain endocrine-disrupting chemicals commonly found in plastics had a higher risk of developing postpartum depression 4 months after birth, reported researchers.

Specifically, odds of developing postpartum depression were substantially increased with exposure to di-n-octyl phthalate (DnOP), used to make plastics more malleable and commonly found in medical tubing and food packaging.

This relationship was seemingly driven by a reduction in progesterone concentrations, the team wrote in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Every one log-unit increase of exposure to DnOP was linked with 8.1% lower progesterone concentration in mid-pregnancy.

Similarly, every one-unit increase in diisononyl phthalate (DiNP) exposure -- also used to make plastics more flexible and commonly found in polyvinyl chloride materials and personal care products -- was associated with 7.7% lower progesterone concentration.

These associations held true even after adjustment for women on psychotropic or progesterone-disrupting medications.

"We found that phthalate exposure was associated with lower progesterone levels during pregnancy and a greater likelihood of developing postpartum depression," researchers said. "This research is important because phthalates are so prevalent in the environment that they are detectable in nearly all pregnant women in the United States."

"If these chemicals can affect prenatal hormone levels and subsequently postpartum depression, reducing exposure to these types of chemicals could be a plausible avenue for preventing postpartum depression," she suggested.

For the study, pregnant women in New York City were recruited when they were in either early pregnancy (i.e., 5 to 18 weeks) or mid-pregnancy (18 to 25 weeks).

Urine samples were used to test for bisphenol and phthalate metabolite levels in early and mid-pregnancy, while sex steroid hormones were assessed in mid-pregnancy. In total, eight bisphenols (BPA, BPAF, BPAP, BPB, BPF, BPP, BPS, and BPZ) and 22 phthalate metabolites were measured.

Of the bisphenols tested for, BPA and BPS were the most commonly detected, present in roughly 75% of all women. BPA is commonly found in food and beverage cans, toys, and other plastics, while BPS is most commonly found in receipts or other thermal paper.

Throughout each trimester, all the women answered the Patient Health Questionnaire-9 to measure depressive symptoms. At 4 months postpartum, the women answered another questionnaire, which included the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale, with a score of 10 or higher indicating postpartum depression.